Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst seems quite pleased with the Senate passage of a bill he strongly supported, which makes it illegal for any municipality to enact an ordinance that could be used to regulate activities occurring beyond its borders. The bill would prevent Houston from adopting Mayor Bill White’s plan to use a nuisance ordinance to fight air pollution whose source is outside the city’s jurisdiction. The bill is now in the House. Speaker Craddick originally referred it to Urban Affairs but quickly re-referred it to Environmental Regulation. This is one of those committees that Craddick organized so that the Democrats were effectively shut out of being able to have any impact on legislation. Only two Ds are on the committee, Eddie Lucio III and Tracy King. Neither is from an urban area.
The bill addresses a legitimate issue, which is how far cities should be able to extend their jurisdiction. But this bill is not just about a fine point of law. It is about politics–2010 gubernatorial politics. Dewhurst expects to be the Republican nominee, and his opponent is likely to be none other than Bill White. Here’s what I don’t get: Why does Dewhurst think it’s good politics for him to be for this bill? This is going to be a TV spot for White! It is going to saturate the airwaves in Houston. “When Houston was trying to protect the public from toxic air pollution, where was David Dewhurst? He was protecting the polluters.” What’s Dewhurst going to say? “My opponent has it all wrong. Houston was abusing its authority at the expense of these good corporate citizens.” Yeah, right. Dewhurst doesn’t get it. This is not 2003. Clean air has become a huge issue in this state in the Republican suburbs, which is where the votes are. Rick Perry’s executive order for TXU’s coal plants changed politics in this state, just as the Trans-Texas Corridor did. Huge grass-roots constituencies have formed against Republican policies, and many of their members are Republicans. Or former Republicans. (See the letter at the end of this post.)
Whatever fate awaits the bill, White wins and Dewhurst loses. If the bill passes, White gets to hang it around Dewhurst’s neck. If the bill fails, Houston gets to regulate air pollution.
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I don’t want to leave the subject of this bill without mentioning how it managed to pass the Senate. (This was first covered by my colleague Patricia Kilday Hart in her May 1 post, “Dewhurst Predicts Passage of Voter ID,” and it involves our old friend Eddie Lucio. The motion to suspend the regular orderof business passed by a vote of 20-10. The twenty Republican senators voted as a bloc to suspend. It would be reasonable to assume that the Democrats couldn’t get that crucial eleventh vote to prevent the bill from getting to the floor due to the absence of the ailing Mario Gallegos, who is recovering from a liver transplant. However, on this particular day, Gallegos was present. Indeed, he even mounted a brief filibuster.” Lucio negated Gallegos’ effort by registering as “Present, Not Voting.” This meant that the motion to suspend the rules passed by a 20-10 count. Then Lucio voted against the bill on second reading. Is anybody surprised? The next day, with Gallegos back in Houston, Lucio voted against suspending the rules, but again the Rs had a 20-10 margin, which was sufficient to suspend the rules and pass the bill. Is there anyone in the Capitol older than the school children in the gallery who thinks that Dewhurst and Lucio didn’t strike some sort of bargain?
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I realize I’m rambling, but … one more thing. Regarding my earlier comment that the Republican leadership of this state–Perry, Dewhurst, Craddick–doesn’t get that their constituency is drifting toward the center, I am going to reproduce a letter that a disillusioned Republican sent to Governor Perry, with a copy to Texas Monthly. The correspondent’s name is used with his permission.
May 9, 2007
Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Dear Gov. Perry:
I am a fifty-nine year old, native born Texan. I have been a Republican all of my adult life. That changes today. I am writing to let you know because you are the primary reason for this change. I believe you to be isolated from the masses, arrogant beyond words, and no where near as smart as you think you are. You, sir, are no friend of the average Texan. You have walked hand in hand with TXU . . . [elipses in this letter are the writer’s] pushing for everything they wanted and asked for. You appointed our PUC commissioners, and have prodded them into thinking like you do as far as TXU is concerned. You, along with our PUC, have allowed TXU to grow into a spoiled brat. They have gotten everything they want. They are obnoxious; they are demanding; they bully; they bribe; they threaten. All that unwarranted profit will do that to a company. They did this on your watch. Now, when you should be standing up fighting for a PUC review of TXU’s proposed sale to a bunch of carpetbaggers, you hide in your office. If the sale goes through, our rates will never again get close to the national average. You should be leading the charge to protect us, yet you remain oddly silent . . . and your silence is loud and clear. You are on the side of the Jim Bakers, and the Don Evanses, and KKR, and TPG and everyone else who stands to make millions off the rest of us. You have betrayed us. You allowed the legislature to strip the accrued funds from our TxDot coffers. Funds allotted for road construction and repair. This account used to have an excess. Our roads used to be the best in the country. No more. Since road dollars have been spent on everything but roads, there is now no money to take care of our road needs. Your answer is to sell our land to foreign companies so they can, not only build toll roads, but also turn some of the existing roads that our taxes have already paid for into toll roads.
Lump these two issues with mandated vaccinations, and using your office as a training ground for high paid lobbyists, and you’ve lost me. You have grown way too big for you[r] britches, and need to be sent packing. Tarred and feathered would suit me, if it was still in vogue. You must think that we are really stupid . . . and I guess we are. We trusted you to do what was best for us in Austin while we were busy trying to make a living, raise our kids and visit our grandchildren. We voted for you and basically left you to do your thing. Little did we know that “your thing” was taking care of those who really don’t need taking care of, at the expense of those of us who do. You have failed us, Governor. You have failed us miserably.
John T. Johnson, III.